Back in October I wrote a speculative piece wondering what the Conservatives could do to win my vote. In essence it boiled down to one vital condition: not being the Conservatives in their present incarnation. I, like so many others, alluded to the Tories having their ‘Clause IV Moment’: some symbolic seismic shift that says to the world “We’ve changed”.
Yesterday, apparently, was that moment, as cherub-faced, chubby-kneed Tory leader David Cameron set out the values for the party in his brave new world. This manifesto will now be put to all Conservative Party members who get to say yay or nay. It’s the first real test Dave has faced since becoming leader and will be crucial in determining to what extent his party are committed to renewal. Given that a significant majority elected him on a reformist platform in the first place, it should pretty much be a formality.
There’s just one problem. It seems to be lifted from Labour’s manifesto circa 1997:
- Economic stability before tax cuts
- Policies must help the least well-off, not the rich
- Women’s choices on work and home lives will be supported
- Public services will not necessarily be run by the state
- Party will fight for free and fair trade
- Tories will be hard-nosed defenders of freedom and security
- Government should support home ownership, saving, families and business
- Government should be closer to the people
Blah, blah, blah. In fact, it would be easy to picture Gordon Brown spouting off this generic drivel right now wouldn’t it? Which is fair enough, as New Labour pinched many clothes from the Conservative’s washing line to become electable in the 90s. It’s all part of the crazy pantomime of party politics. The Cameron manifesto has virtually nothing in common with the Tories of yesteryear, just as Blair’s New Labour bore little resemblance to the leftist instincts of Labour under Michael Foot.
What it means for us poor voters is very little in the way of choice. We’ve got a suffocating new consensus where government is small, but big. Spending is boosted, but managed. The private sector is cherished, but railed in. The NHS is sacred, but ripe for reform.
Our choice at the next election: two centrist parties committed to pretty much the same policies but wearing different coloured ties. What a big yawn.